From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Friday, May 31, 2013

Gay Scouts: Church controversies

1969 (Public Domain) 
According to Ken Mandel of Newsmax, the Boy Scouts have decided to "allow openly gay youths to join their ranks."

Mandel explains that some religious groups are in support of "the Boy Scouts' attempts to be inclusive."   These groups include "the Mormon church, The National Jewish Committee on Scouting, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Metropolitan Community Church."

However, the Roman Catholic Church continues to debate this issue, and the Southern Baptist national leadership is openly opposed to it. These latter two church groups have historically been two of the Scouts greatest supporters.

Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page told NewsmaxI think I can
say with pretty strong accuracy that the vast majority of Southern Baptists are
very disappointed in the latest change in [Boy Scout] policy…

A Boy Scout statement responded to the controversy in this manner:  We believe this policy is reflective of the beliefs of most of Scouting's major religious chartered organizations and are unaware of any that believe a youth member simply stating that he or she is attracted to the same sex, but not engaging in sexual activity, should make him or her
unwelcome in their congregation…    

Resources
http://www.newsmax.com/TheWire/churches-cut-boy-scout/2013/05/29/id/506972#ixzz2UnC6kJVv

Copyright May 31, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved









Thursday, May 30, 2013

Mermaids: Real or not, they're essential

(Public Domain)
Brenda Peterson, a contributor to the Huff Post Green Blog, doesn't exactly believe in mermaids.  She nevertheless treasures the many mythologies about them.

She explainsMermaids are mirrors reflecting back to us our ancient bond with the oceans and our future dependence upon the 'gifts of the sea'…  Mermaids call forth from us a kinship and memory based on our own Aquatic ape ancestors.  Most of all, they remind us that our seas are our ancestral wombs and our most vital future life support system.

This kinship between humans and sea animals could explain the high ratings
for Animal Planet's two shows, Mermaids: The Body Found and Mermaids: The New Evidence.  Whereas there is no scientific doubt that beautiful and intelligent sea creatures such as whales and dolphins are being killed in droves by military sonar,
Animal Planet raises the additional question of whether a mermaid-like body was also washed ashore with the beached mammals.

In answer to that latter question, Peterson concludes:  Who's to say?  She therefore concentrates upon another conundrum: Why are we making our oceans too dangerous to sustain all life?

Mermaids or not, she feels that this is the essential question raised by these fishy documentaries.

Resources
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brenda-peterson/mermaids-on-animal-planet_b_3321506.html

Copyright May 30, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Autism: An upbeat perspective

(Photo by Nancy J. Price)
In an article titled "The perks of autism," Sunday Stilwell writes about being the mother of two autistic children, and compares that with parenting neuro-typical  (NT) ones.  Although she does not discount the challenges of her situation, she also heralds its strengths.

For example, Stilwell applauds the fact that her "boys do not whine."  They might scream at times with the frustration of not being able to verbally express their feelings, but the incessant whining that whittles away at the psyche is thankfully absent.  Rather than engaging in a litany of nit-picking questions, her children prefer succinct and straightforward information.

Stilwell states that her boys display a "lack of greed and competition."  This means that on Christmas morning they are satisfied with far less than the average NT child craves.  Plus, they are not looking over their shoulders to compare gifts with everyone else.  Instead, they are concentrating upon what's right in front of them.

This results in an astonishing dearth of sibling rivalry.  Not only are Stilwell's boys appreciative of their own toys, but they are also prone to independently enjoy them.  They are far more interested in marching to their own beat than in raining on someone else's parade.        

Resources
http://living.msn.com/family-parenting/mom-to-mom-blog-post/?post=55f4b34f-e372-4dd9-b478-245c9cf845e7

Copyright May 29, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Pope to Mafia: Fuhgeddaboud your evil ways

Palermo at Christmas (by Josep Renalias)
The Bishop of Rome, i.e. Pope Francis, is taking care of business right at home.

He not only made a pastoral visit to one of Rome's peripheral parishes, but also recently preached against Mafia "exploitation and slavery."  Frances D'Emilio of the Associated Press reports that Francis "paid tribute to a courageous priest murdered by the Sicilian Mafia as a martyr [Rev. Giuseppe Puglisi, beatified this past Saturday in Palermo] and urged mobsters on Sunday to abandon their evil ways…"

These "evil ways" include drug and human trafficking.  The latter entails the clandestine placement of illegal
immigrants on farms and in factories, plus the use of "young people from abroad for prostitution."  Because
Francis envisions a "poor church for the poor," he is concentrating upon bettering the lives of society's most desperate people.

Rev. Puglisi had done the same.  He had worked in Palermo, Sicily's toughest slums – neighborhoods in which young people were being recruited by the Cosa Nostra for illicit activities such as "drug pushing and
numbers running."  Puglisi accepted neither Mafia favors nor intimidation, and he repeatedly urged
parishioners to do the same.  Wikipedia reports that his last words as Mafia hit men approached him were these:  I've been expecting you.
 
Resources

http://news.yahoo.com/pope-urges-mafiosi-stop-exploitation-others-104849224.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pino_Puglisi

Copyright May 28, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved


Monday, May 27, 2013

World War II study: Atheists in foxholes?

1958 Foxhole Fighting (Public Domain)
Although there may very well have been some atheists entering World War II foxholes, chances are that a number of them came out praying.

Kimberly Winston of Religion News Service reports on a new study by brothers Craig Wansink of Virginia Wesleyan College and Brian Wansink of Cornell University.  This study included "data collected from U.S. Army service members in the Pacific in 1944 and from surveys the authors sent to surviving veterans more than 50 years later."

Study results indicated that prayer was a better motivator for getting through the tough aspects of military service than "several other factors, including the broader goals of the war."  The frequency of subsequent church attendance was particularly high with those veterans whose World War II experiences were particularly negative.

Craig Wansink stated:  The most important thing is that the more veterans disliked the war, the more
religious they were 50 years later.  Study statistics also showed the following:  As fear increased during
combat, the amount of prayer rose by 30%, and 69% of those later surveyed are now church members who
attend services more than three times per month.

Brian Wansink concluded that religious involvement could therefore help to heal the overall wounds of war.
He explained:  One reason it may have been so effective in the past is that religion is a very social experience…  That might be missing from current strategies in helping recent soldiers cope with stress.

Resources
http://www.religionnews.com/2013/05/23/study-suggests-bad-world-war-ii-experiences-led-vets-to-church/

Copyright May 27, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved





Sunday, May 26, 2013

Faith healing: Why an either/or?

Seri Shaman (Photo: Tomas Castelazo)
There's an old joke that goes something like this:  If God wanted us to fly, He would have given us soul travel and airplanes…  By the same token – if God wanted us to heal, He would have given us doctors and shamans, medicines and herbs, exercise and exorcism, logic and prayer…

Why does religion need to be pitted against science?  Why can't the two work hand-in-scalpel – both tools of the same God?

Wikipedia defines faith healing as "healing through spiritual means…  [that] can be brought about by religious faith through prayer and/or
rituals that, according to adherents, stimulate a divine presence and power toward correcting disease and disability."  There is nothing within this definition that precludes also relying upon scientific and/or medical assistance.  In other words, God sometimes works in such obvious ways that they only seem mysterious.

Unfortunately, those who more narrowly define faith healing as relying solely upon prayer and ritual sometimes end up with tragic results.  Such is allegedly the case with Herbert and Catherine Schaible of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  According to MaryClaire Dale of the Associated Press, they are currently facing third-degree murder charges due to their refusal to seek medical care for their now-deceased infant son.  

Resources

http://news.msn.com/crime-justice/faith-healers-charged-with-murder-after-2nd-death?ocid=ansnews11
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faith_healing

Copyright May 26, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved






Saturday, May 25, 2013

A friend to what end?

(Jonathan and David)
According to a Getlifeboat.com survey, "three-fourths of us are dissatisfied with our friendships."  Kristin Wong of MSN Living reports that most of us "yearn for deeper relationships."

Sounds reasonable so far…  However, upon closer examination of what "deeper" might mean, it seems as though the modern definition of friendship might need revamping.  For example, this survey also indicated that "fourteen percent primarily look for a friend who's good-looking."  And only "26 percent said they look for someone who 'shares my spiritual
or religious beliefs…'"

Perhaps if this latter percentage were much higher, friendship would be a whole lot more satisfying.
Friendshipday.org gives numerous instances of friendships from Abrahamic and other religious traditions.  Biblical examples include this one from John 15:  Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.  Certainly a far cry from today's bowling and shopping buddies…  

Then there's Ruth and Naomi, Jonathan and David, and even God speaking to Moses "as a man… unto his friend" (Exodus 33:11).  Perhaps one of the foremost reasons why Jesus took on a human body was to teach people the true meaning of friendship.

Friendshipday.org also tells us about Lord Krishna's displays of friendship within the famous Hindu epic, Mahabharata.  Krishna demonstrated "affection, romance, brotherhood, protection, guidance, intimacy and even teasing."

Although the survey intimates that deep friendship does not necessarily involve religious beliefs, these abovementioned examples might in the end provide much better guidance.  

Resources

http://living.msn.com/love-relationships/the-heart-beat-blog-post?post=67d47f2f-54c5-4f24-be9e-11577cee31c2
http://www.friendshipday.org/friendship-day-history.html

Copyright May 25, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved


Friday, May 24, 2013

Pope Francis: All are redeemed

Allegory of Salvation (Heusler, ca. 1555)
Don't bother trying to theologically outguess Pope Francis' stand on redemption.  He made it exceptionally clear within a recent homily
that when it comes to redemption, everybody means everybody.

But what about the guy who drinks a six-pack before breakfast?  Everybody.

The gal who engages in the world's oldest profession?  Everybody.

Aha!  How about the atheist?  The pope's answer remains steadfast:  Everybody

According to David Gibson of Religion News Service (RNS), Francis' exact words on the matter included these:  [God] has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics.  Everyone!

Francis also specifically warned that "building walls against non-Catholics leads to 'killing in the name of God'" (i.e. "blasphemy").

So if centuries of theological constraints are now being lifted, where then is the incentive to do good?  If everyone is being redeemed anyway, why even bother being righteous?

Francis has an answer for that too.  He stated:  It [doing good] is a duty, it is an identity card that our Father has given to all of us, because he has made us in his image and likeness.

Resources
http://www.religionnews.com/2013/05/22/pope-francis-god-redeemed-everyone-not-just-catholics/?ref=leaderboard

Copyright May 24, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved



Thursday, May 23, 2013

Wolf in journalist's clothing

Wolf (by IsraelinUSA) 
In this here country, we believe in the separation of hens and wolves.  We also supposedly believe in the separation of church and state.  Not to mention the separation of journalism and preachy dialogue…

It was therefore quite a surprise to find one of the country's foremost journalists, Wolf Blitzer, "leading the witness" during a key interview moment.   The Inquisitr reported that CNN anchor Blitzer had recently asked an Oklahoma-tornado survivor named Rebecca whether she had "thanked the
lord" for her good fortune.  He did this after assuring her that she, her husband, and her son were all blessed.

Now granted, Blitzer (whose name refers to "lightning" in German/Yiddish) might know a thing or two about the dangers of storms.  As the son of two Holocaust survivors, he certainly knows quite a bit about gratitude. Nevertheless, he put quite a dent into the so-called objectivity of journalism by
skewing the interview in God's direction.

Rebecca's response was honest and direct, yet remarkably diplomatic.  She explained to Blitzer that she was an atheist, but added:  don't blame anybody for thanking the lord.

Resources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolf_Blitzer
http://www.inquisitr.com/670677/wolf-blitzer-asks-atheist-if-she-thanked-god-after-surviving-tornado-in-oklahoma-video/

Copyright May 23, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved











Wednesday, May 22, 2013

In the gardens: Congregations get growing

Borage (Photo by Yummifruitbat)
Coming to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses is one thing – joining together with a congregation to insure that the dew will also be on the lettuce and tomatoes is quite another.  Both experiences can certainly result in an enhanced spirituality.

According to Debra Rubin of Religion News Service (RNS), congregants from churches and synagogues throughout the United States are trying the latter approach.  Fruits and vegetables are being raised for "soup kitchens and food pantries in what are often called food justice programs" (or "mitzvah gardens").

Chicago's KAM Isaiah Israel synagogue not only has gardens within its own yard, but also helps two neighborhood churches to do the same.  Volunteers had originally "ripped out" much of KAM's lawn in order to create a Star of David shaped vegetable garden "with produce grown in each 30-square-foot point." Robert Nevel, KAM's social justice coordinator, wisely points out:  The synagogue doesn't own that land, the church doesn't own that land, no one really owns it; we need to be stewards of the land.

Nan Onest - Pastoral Associate at Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in Cedar Lake, Indiana – would certainly agree with Nevel.  She refers to land and gardens as "God's creations" and notes that congregational food programs are good ways of modeling fair land usage and food distribution practices.  Onest's  number of gardening volunteers has almost tripled within a short time.  These volunteers include a vibrant mix of congregants plus members of the community at large.

Resources
http://www.religionnews.com/2013/05/15/congregations-tend-the-soil-and-the-soul-with-vegetable-gardens/

Copyright May 22, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved



Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Bobby McFerrin: Spirityouall


http://www.flickr.com/photos/jurvetson



Beyond worry and happiness there's a place called "Spirityouall." Bobby McFerrin makes it his business to sing about this "place" on a new recording by the same name.

Boston Globe correspondent Karen Campbell tells us that McFerrin's father – Robert McFerrin, Sr. – was "the first African-American to become a member of the New York Metropolitan Opera and the singing voice of Sidney Poitier in the film of 'Porgy and Bess…'"  His "great baritone" was especially prominent within "his renditions of classic Negro spirituals."

McFerrin (who is no slouch in his own right, Wikipedia tells us that he's been a "ten-time Grammy award winner") is therefore dedicating this recording to his dad.  However, McFerrin did not simply want to recreate his father's interpretations of the spirituals.  He instead strove to take "a distinctly different, cross-genre approach to the material…"

This unique approach produced such results as an "up-tempo" Joshua  and a bluesy Whole World. Altogether there are seven spirituals, six original McFerrin songs, plus a cover of Dylan's I Shall Be Released.

Plenty of material to stop worrying and start being happy about…  

Resources

http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/music/2013/04/13/bobby-mcferrin-spirityouall-symphony-hall-boston/Jw4dISvQB9Tlqmv2JgUiTI/story.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bobby_McFerrin

Copyright May 21, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved


Monday, May 20, 2013

Meditation for the uninitiated

Bruce Willis (Photo by Gage Skidmore)
Don't have a shaved head?  Not a problem.  Have a shaved head, but only did it to look cool like Bruce Willis?  Not a problem.  In
fact, little to nothing's a problem with MSN Living's "Meditation 101."

The article begins with the words "I feel idiotic repeating a mantra."  Rich Pierson, cofounder of "a meditation company" called Headspace, has just the answer for that.  He explains that all it takes to get into the meditation groove is to focus upon steadying the breath.

What does this mean exactly?  Pierson advises:  "Close your eyes and count your slow inhalations and exhalations silently up to 10, then repeat."  If you happen to notice that there's a whole lot of "noise" in your head, Pierson's got an answer for that too:  "The trick is to stop judging yourself for it… [Simply] go back to your breathing, and start counting again."

Now although you may have always imagined yourself levitating in some Himalayan cave, Andy Puddicombe ("a joke-cracking former Buddhist monk") asserts that "you can meditate anywhere, under almost any circumstances."  If a distraction occurs, focus all your attention on it for a short while until the mind gets bored.  It should then be relatively easy to return to your rhythmic breathing.

Last but not least, if meditation makes you sleepy, you probably needed a nap anyway.  Puddicombe explains that meditation will "heighten awareness of any sensation or feeling" that's already present.

Resources
http://living.msn.com/life-inspired/time-to-bloom/slideshow?cp-documentid=251270247#1

Copyright May 20, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved



Sunday, May 19, 2013

Vatican: Becoming artsy once again

Leo X (Portrait by Rubens)
In the "good old days" of Pope Leo X (elected in 1513 and died in 1521 CE), the arts flourished.

Never mind that this was often paid for with money garnered from indulgences (alms in exchange for the pardoning of sins) – Leo's philosophy has been described as follows:  Since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it.

In keeping with these words, Leo not only sold indulgences - but also cardinals' hats, palace furniture, jewels, and even "statues of the apostles."  Wikipedia reports that he used this money to fund all sorts of artistic ventures – from establishing a Greek printing press to employing Raphael to work on St. Peter's Basilica.  Not to mention Leo's habit of parading around Rome with jesters and Hanno the elephant in tow…

These days things aren't quite as flamboyant, but are nevertheless picking up speed.  Religion News Service (RNS) recently reported that the Vatican had plans to participate in the 2013 Venice Biennale ("a leading international arts festival").  RNS also reported that Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, "the Vatican's culture minister who was considered a strong contender during the recent papal conclave, has made reconciliation with the art world a top priority…"             

Resources

http://www.religionnews.com/2013/05/14/vatican-revives-its-ancient-patronage-of-the-arts/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Leo_X

Copyright May 19, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Chris Hadfield: Gravity a downer

(NASA photo)
Gaia, aka "Mother Earth" to many, has pressed humanity to her mighty bosom for eons via the force of gravity.

Humans are so used to being held in gravity's clutches that they barely give it a second thought (unless, of course, they are focusing upon the sags and bags that earthly flesh is heir to).

Nevertheless, there are some that manage to escape gravity's influence – if only for a little while.  Such a fortunate one is Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who just completed a five-month sojourn within the International Space Station.

Irene Klotz of Reuters reports that Hadfield "became a social media rock star with his zero-gravity version of David Bowie's 'Space Oddity' [13 million YouTube hits and counting…] and a continuous stream of commentary on Twitter about his life in orbit." 
His expressiveness has helped to give the average earthling a feel for gravity's weighty effects.

Hadfield recently described his "rough re-introduction to gravity" in less than glowing terms.  He missed his
"whole new [zero-gravity] normal," and said that his body had been "quite happy living in space…"  His neck and back were particularly feeling the burden of having to once again support his head. 

Upon reentry, Hadfield could actually "feel the weight" of his lips and tongue (he had gotten used to talking in
spaced with "a weightless tongue").  Getting blood back to the brain became another chore that his body had to once again contend with.

Nevertheless, Mother Earth tried to lure Hadfield back into the fold with her bountiful charms.  He explained:
Our first true sense of being home was a window full of the dirt of the Earth and the smell of spring and the growing grasses in Kazakhstan wafting in through the open hatch. 

Gravity or no gravity, who could resist all that?

Resources    
http://news.yahoo.com/canadian-astronaut-wrestles-gravity-spaceflight-155914826.html

Copyright May 18, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved





Friday, May 17, 2013

Beware the DSM-5

(Seven deadly diagnoses?)
The DSM-5, otherwise known as the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association's (APA's) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is causing somewhat of an uproar for those in the know.

Lindsey Tanner of the Associated Press reports that "prominent critics" are accusing the APA of "turning common human problems into mental illnesses."  These same critics fear that this will just exacerbate the already existing "pop-a-pill" culture.  Their outcry goes like this:  Normal needs to be saved from powerful forces trying to convince us that we are all sick.

This group of critics is international in nature.  It includes the head of the NIMH (the U.S. National Institute for Mental Health), a British psychologist's group, and an organization of German therapists.  Criticism also comes through loud and clear in works such as Gary Greenberg's The Book of Woe and Allen Frances' Saving Normal.

Some of the most questioned "diseases" within the DSM-5 include the following:  "mild neurocognitive disorder" (as applied to commonplace "senior moments"), "disruptive mood dysregulation disorder" (as applied to temper tantrums), "binge eating" (as applied to consistent once-a-week overeating), and "major depression" (as applied to grieving the loss of a loved one).

Since religions have been known to describe the human condition as one that contains the seeds of all these so-called ailments, perhaps it's time to start calling the seven deadly sins the seven deadly diseases.  Perhaps
then we can all medicate our way into heaven. 

Resources
http://news.yahoo.com/shrinks-critics-face-off-over-psychiatric-manual-182839126.html

Copyright May 17, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved




Thursday, May 16, 2013

Who put the Whit in Whitsun?

2010 Whit Walks (Photo by Richerman)
Not only is there a Whitsun in the United Kingdom - but there is also a Whit Sunday (from whence Whitsun was derived, say that three times fast), a Whit Monday (the day after Whit Sunday, good guess), a Whit Friday (the Friday after), a Whitsuntide (the week after),  Whit Walks (actually parades), Whit Fairs (sometimes called Ales), and – of course - just plain Whit (bringing us right back to yet another name for Whit Sunday).

Wikipedia (with lots of wit, but little Whit) tells us that "Whit" is often thought to be an abbreviation of "White" due to the "white garments worn by catechumens" and the white vestments  in England that were often worn on Whitsun.  Also, young English women tended to come to church wearing new white dresses on that day.

Wikipedia also mentions that John Mirk, an Augustinian canon from Shropshire who lived circa 1382 to 1414 CE), had this different interpretation:  Good men and wimmen, this day (Dies Penthecostes) is called Wytsonday by cause the holy ghost bought wytte and wisdom into Crists dyscyples… (Wit being strongly associated with wisdom back then – are you listening, Comedy Central?).

Resources
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whitsun

Copyright May 16, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Have a Hava: Dance everyone dance

Macedonian Oro (Photo by Chajeshukarie)
It's harvest time in Israel - a time for rejoicing
and giving thanks for all such blessings.

Gratitude for the harvest bounty can be joyfully
expressed through dance and song.  And no song
better exemplifies this than "Hava Nagila."

Drawing inspiration from Psalm 118:24 of the Hebrew Bible ("This is the day which Yahweh has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it…"), the
transliterated Hebrew lyrics (often attributed to
musicologist Abraham Zvi Idelsohn)  include the following: Hava nagila ("Let's rejoice"), ve-nismeha ("and be happy"), Hava neranenah ("Let's sing), and Uru ahim be-lev sameah ("Awake brothers with a happy heart").

The English version includes these lines:  "Come to the valley, Run through the clover, Harvest is over, Dance everyone dance!    Dance where the corn was high, Under a golden sky, Dance where the wine was born, Dance everyone dance!"

The haunting melody comes from Bucovina (a region that is currently within both Romania and the Ukraine), and the foot-stomping beat comes from its association with the Hora (a lively Balkan circle dance, aka Horo and Oro).

Wikipedia reports that Hava Nagila has been popularized by such diverse artists as Chubby Checker, Bob Dylan, Connie Francis, Lena Horne, Glen Campbell, and Josephine Baker.  For Harry Belafonte it was a "stand out song" which he played at practically every one of his concerts.  Belafonte even stated:  Life is not worthwhile without it.  Most Jews in America learned that song from me.          

Resources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hava_Nagila
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hora_(dance)

Copyright May 15, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved



Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Shavuot: Why the Book of Ruth?

Naomi, Ruth & Orpah (by William Blake)
Just as the Book of Lamentations is read on Tisha B'Av, the Book of Ecclesiastes on Sukkot, the Book of Esther on Purim, and the Song of Songs on Passover – so too is the Book of Ruth (Megillat Rut) read on Shavuot.

Mazornet.com tells us that Ruth is a great heroine who is "forever beloved and revered."  Her modesty,
dignity and great deeds provide us with fine examples
of "what a true friend, a true daughter, a true woman is made of."

Beyond this general description of what Ruth means to the Jewish people, there are some specific reasons
why her story is traditionally read on Shavuot.  These are as follows:

1.  Ruth's "quest to become part of the Jewish Nation" is often compared to the giving of the Torah to the Jews.

2.  Ruth was accepted by Yahweh just as the Israelites were.

3.  The gematria (numerical value) of the Hebrew letters of Ruth's name equals 606, which is the exact number of new commandments (in addition to the seven existing Noahide Laws) that were given to the Jewish nation on Shavuot.

4.  King David, Ruth's great-grandson, was born and died on Shavuot.

5.  Shavuot is also a Harvest Festival, and the Book of Ruth highlights Israel's harvest.

6.  Ruth exemplifies Chesed ("loving kindness" – akin to Agape and Caritas), which is the essence of many Torah teachings.

Resources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shavuot
http://www.mazornet.com/holidays/Shavuot/readingruth.htm

Copyright May 14, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved





Monday, May 13, 2013

Pope Francis: Treading lightly on Muslim toes

Otranto Castle (Photo by Attilios)
Although Italian newspaper Il Giornale described the martyrs of Otranto (recently canonized by Pope Francis) as "victims of Islam," Francis himself avoided any derogatory references to the historical details of their martyrdom.

Not that there weren't any.  He could have easily talked about how the Ottoman forces under Gedik Ahmed Pasha in 1480 CE skewered, cut to pieces, and beheaded those 813 Ortranto-based Christians who refused to convert to Islam.   However, to be fair, he would then have also had to discuss the atrocities that Christians and followers of many
other religions have committed throughout the centuries.

Pope Francis instead chose another route. He chose to affirm the faith of these martyrs while not emphasizing the religious affiliation of their assailants.  The Guardian reports that he expressed himself this way to a recent crowd in St. Peter's Square:  "As we venerate the martyrs of Otranto, let us ask God to sustain the many Christians who, today and in many parts of the world, now, still suffer from violence, and to give them the courage to be devout and to respond to evil with good."

The word "Islam" was never even mentioned.  Furthermore, the Vatican stated that this martyrdom should be understood within "the historical context of the wars that determined relations between Europe and the Ottoman empire for a long period of time."

Contextualization can go a real long way towards healing wounds that are centuries old.  It seems as though Francis is trying to soothe some of those deep ones between Muslims and Christians.      

Resources

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/12/pope-francis-canonise-otranto-martyrs
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martyrs_of_Otranto

Copyright May 13, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved





Sunday, May 12, 2013

Cybele: Mommie Greatest

Attis (Photo by archer10) 
Cybele – she who the ancient Romans called Magna Mater ("Great Mother") – is thought to have originally been an Anatolian goddess.
Wikipedia tells us that she was associated back then with lions and mountains and hawks - oh my!                                                   

She eventually added other "hobbies" to her mighty repertoire. While in ancient Greece, she rubbed divine shoulders with the likes of Gaia, Rhea and Demeter.  Such heady company was bound to go to her, well, head. 

She became quite the diva, known for her grand entrances in lion-drawn chariots, complete with "wild music, wine, and a disorderly ecstatic following." (Woodstock, anyone?)   It was during those times that she met the love of her eternal life, Attis (whose replica strangely resembles the Statue of Liberty).  

Although Cybele certainly had a wild-enough past, she cleaned up her act considerably when the Romans finally rolled around (you know what they say: "When in Rome…").  Roman historians then airbrushed her biography until it showed nothing but "piety, purity and status…"

In return for selling her soul to the Empire, Cybele was worshipped beyond belief (but not beyond politics).  She was now firmly identified with "Imperial order and Rome's religious authority," and began to oddly resemble the Empress Livia (who was then seen as "Magna Mater's earthly equivalent").

Such is the fate of even the Greatest of Mothers when she trades freedom for security and winds up with neither…

Resources
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cybele

Copyright May 12, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Meet the Winehouses: A typical Jewish family

Winehouse in 2007 (by Daniel Arnold)
To hear Amy's brother Alex tell it, the Winehouses are just another "typical Jewish family."

MSN Entertainment recently reported that Alex has curated a "special exhibition" of Amy's "life and faith" that will open at the London Jewish Museum this July.  Titled "Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait" - it will not only feature her professional belongings (such as guitars, records, and stage outfits), but it will also honor her "Jewish-London roots."

Alex explained:  We weren't religious, but we were traditional.  Both parents are Jewish (Mitch and Janis, now divorced), and passed along the cultural side of Judaism to their children.  Shortly after Amy's death in 2011, Liz Spikol wrote these words for The Philly Post:  "Winehouse had an interesting relationship to her Judaism.  When she mentioned it, she'd acknowledge that it read as a contradiction to her public wild side."

Spikol offered this 2007 quote from Winehouse: "I love parties and rock 'n' roll, but secretly I'm never happier than when I'm cleaning.  In 10 years' time I'm gonna be looking after my husband and our seven kids…  At the end of the day, I'm a Jewish girl."

Unfortunately, the end of Amy's day came far too soon.  Spikol lamented:   "I dearly wish she'd lived long enough to make matzoh ball soup for her granddaughters.  She could have given them wise counsel about what it really means to be a Jewish girl."

Chutzpah and all…  

Resources

http://music.msn.com/music/article.aspx?news=807111&ocid=rr-mus-news
http://blogs.phillymag.com/the_philly_post/2011/07/25/amy-winehouse-rip/

Copyright May 11, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved






Friday, May 10, 2013

Cicadas: Watch what you ask for

Tithonus, is that you? (by Martin Hauser)
When surrounded by a swarm of cicadas, it might seem as though there is nothing worse.  However, consider this:  you could end up like Tithonus.

Tithonus (or Tithonos, if you prefer) was the son of Trojan King Laomedon and water nymph Strymo. He was the lover of Titaness Eos (later known as Aurora), goddess of the dawn.  Because goddesses live forever and Trojans don't, Eos begged Zeus to grant Tithonus immortality.  However, she forgot one small detail:  eternal youth.

According to Wikipedia, Eos got her wish.  Tithonus began his countdown to eternity as a sickly old man who "could not move nor lift his limbs," had "no more strength at all," and who babbled on "endlessly."  What to do?  When Eos complained about this, Good King Zeus had one more trick up his divine sleeve:  he turned Tithonus into a cicada, "eternally living [who says the gods don't keep their promises?], but begging for death to overcome him."

The life of an average mortal cicada is therefore beginning to look like Riley's.  Not big in the looks department (the phrase "bug-eyed" comes to mind), cicadas are nevertheless intriguing.  Their varicose-veined wings and elongated proboscis are actually quite functional, enabling them to get where they need to go and ferret out some nutrition along the way.  They don't really mean to bite humans, and only do so when they mistake people for plants.  Plus, they're the ideal guests – often only visiting once in 17 years.

This could be why some societies actually prize (and/or eat) them.  They are considered to be yummy in China, Burma, the Congo, Malaysia, and parts of Latin America.  Females are preferred because they are "meatier" (Tithonus is breathing a sigh of relief – to be eternally chewed is one mighty long ouch).

Resources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cicada
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tithonus

Copyright May 10, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Nevada Desert Experience: Interfaith perspectives

(Creech Air Force Base in Nevada)
In the New York Albany Friends Meeting May 2013 Newsletter, Jen Illenberg writes that the Nevada Desert Experience (NDE) "was easily one of the most profound experiences of my life."

Illenberg describes the NDE as a "Sacred Peace Walk" that draws "attention to the nuclear dangers that continue to threaten our sacred planet and the community of life."  Although many see peace activism as a political movement, Jen mainly focuses upon the spirituality that sustains it.  After all, "the peace that passeth understanding" is what lies at the very core of most religious traditions.

One of the major points that Illenberg makes concerns the immanent beauty of the desert.  While engaging in a Shoshone Sunrise Ceremony each morning, she was quite inspired by the prayers for Mother Earth and all of Her community (including air, water, plants and animals).  Jen had rarely connected as strongly to the notion that the "Earth needs us to pray to it," and her primal response was "Wow!!!"

Then there were the times when "Buddhists, Hindus, Protestants, Catholics, Pagans, Jews, Humanists, Native Shoshones, and Quakers" all joined hands to pray together before meals.  Traditions, rituals and beliefs were shared "with complete acceptance and respect."  These included Sanskrit songs from the Vedas, a Jewish Seder, and Buddhist prayer beads.  Yoga was also practiced on most mornings.

Illenberg equated these desert gatherings with "the biblical idea that we could create the Kingdom of God here on Earth."  She reported that they had "created utopia, a small society in which everyone has value, our diversity is our strength, all are equal and we are united by our beliefs on non violence."

She sees this "utopia" not as an end in itself, but rather as a new beginning for her overall life and relationships.

Resources
"Jen's Nevada Desert Experience."  Albany Friends Meeting Newsletter May 2013.

Copyright May 9, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Quantified Self: The sum of my percentages

(Blame him...)
To look at today's data-driven culture, one might think that life's new adage reads something like this:  I compute, therefore I am.

James Wolcott tried this quantified lifestyle while researching his Vanity Fair article, "Wired up! Ready to go!"  He strapped a Fitbit Ultra activity tracker to his right wrist to record the number of
steps he took, stairs he climbed, and calories he (hopefully) burned. On his left wrist was a Jawbone Up bracelet, which recorded some of those very same (momentous, no doubt) actions (albeit with some very different results – which leads a body to wonder: what's wrong with this picture?).

In case all that self-tracking had become stressful, Wolcott came prepared.  He carried with him an emWave2 pocket-size Personal Stress Reliever, which "measures heart-rate variability (H.R.V.) and doubles as a biofeedback meditation assistant" (don't leave home without it).  For those who still have their poetic sensibilities in tact, Wolcott offers this description:  It's like a mood ring for the heart.

Now you can blame this all on modern-day technology, but the truth is that self-analytical types such as Benjamin Franklin have been tracking their lives for centuries.  Franklin's system was a bit more all-encompassing than Wolcott's; it attempted to rate such things as temperance and sincerity (a bit harder to do
than counting heartbeats).

Whereas Franklin might have asked himself, "Have I been optimally virtuous today?" – the trinity of questions from the Quantified Self movement (the "Self Knowledge Through Numbers" folks) drones on like this: What did you do? How did you do it?  What did you learn?

After attending some Quantified Self "meet-ups" (which he described as "Weight Watchers exponentialized,
an emerging neuro-cellular confraternity"), Wolcott made this prediction:  The future belongs to cool foreheads and crisp numbers – and worse yet (for some of us who prefer "moonbeams in a jar"), the future is now.       

Resources
http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2013/02/quantified-self-hive-mind-weight-watchers

Copyright May 8, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Johannes Brahms: Requiem for a Humanist

(Brahms circa 1853)
In some ways, Jan Swafford's biography of Johannes Brahms could have been alternatively titled "Requiem for a Humanist."

Swafford wrote that from early on, "Music was Brahms's religion."  In Dan Barker's article subtitled "Brahms the Freethinker," it was stated that Johannes had originally "pored over the Bible beyond the requirements for his Protestant confirmation."  He therefore was probably more familiar with Scripture than many believers, but chose a humanist agnostic path instead.

After his mother's death, Brahms wrote what he considered to be a "personal testament" (as opposed to a liturgical mass):  Ein deutsches Requiem ("A German Requiem").  Wikipedia explains that although biblical lyrics were present (such as those with "words of comfort to the bereaved"), many were deliberately omitted (such as some that convey the very essence of popular Christian beliefs). 

When conductor Karl Reinthaler suggested that "salvation in the death of our Lord" be emphasized in the Requiem, Brahms remained firm in his approach by answering, "As far as the text is concerned, I confess
that I would gladly omit even the word German and use Human; also with my best knowledge and will I would dispense with passages such as John 3:16."

John 3:16 (depicted widely with billboards, tattoos, etc.) reads as follows in the King James Version: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Although Brahms wasn't keen on standard Christian doctrine, he nevertheless expressed compassion and
empathy for the oppressed.  Amidst the growing anti-Semitism of his time and place, Brahms called it "madness" and talked about having himself circumcised in protest.  In general, he lived an exemplary life, "generous and helpful, sharing his wealth liberally, living simply and humbly, giving of his time and energies to others."

Resources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Brahms
http://ffrf.org/legacy/fttoday/2002/may02/barker.php

Copyright May 7, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved


Monday, May 6, 2013

Bouncing Back: Neuroscience of 'boing'

(Photo by Xpogo)
Like a coiled spring that has the capacity to just say "boing," rewired brains are now also Bouncing Back thanks to author Linda Graham.

In her book by that title, marriage and family therapist Graham offers techniques for handling adversity "in a more positive and resilient way."   Jill Suttie of Berkeley's Greater Good explains some of the neuroscience behind Graham's methods.  She says that it is neuroplasticity, "the brain's ability to grow and change in response to experience," that allows us to "redirect automatic stress responses and rewire our brains for better resilience."

The good news is that by practicing these redirecting techniques, the neuroplasticity process becomes more within our conscious control.  Graham's repertoire of such practices includes the following:  seeking out calm people who can help us to calm ourselves; engaging in loving safe touch (such as hugs or massages); becoming mindful (attending to your present experience without judging it); and recalling past successes in order to build the brain's "confidence muscle."

Graham also talks quite a bit about oxytocin, which she describes as "the neurochemical basis in our body for the felt sense of safety and trust, of connection and belonging, which reassures us "everything is OK; everything is going to be OK."  Neuroscience has discovered that remembering, or even imagining, feeling loved is enough to activate the release of oxytocin in the brain.  Graham states that this "can include feeling 'held' by a spiritual figure or religious deity…"

Resources

http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/building_resilience# 
http://lindagraham-mft.com/new-book-bouncing-back/

Copyright May 6, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved





Sunday, May 5, 2013

Justin Bieber: Talking Turkey

(Prayer Times at a Turkish Mosque)
Although Justin Bieber is a self-proclaimed Christian, he might also recognize that prayer is a universal language.

According to E Online, Bieber stopped his recent Istanbul
concert twice in order to honor the Muslim calls to prayer (aka the Azan or the Adhan).  Although some are now
disputing his motives (attributing them instead to his being pelted with gifts from fans and wanting some relief), Bieber's respect for religion has been previously noted.

iVillage reported in 2010 that Bieber's autobiography indicated he was already dealing with the temptations of a celebrity life "by turning to a higher power."  He was quoted as saying:  I'm a Christian, I believe in God,
I believe that Jesus died on a cross for my sins.  I believe that I have a relationship and I'm able to talk to him…

Talking with Jesus?  Sounds like prayer…

Just last month, Rachel Liu of Crossmap reported that Bieber and his pastor Judah Smith "share Scriptures on a regular basis."  The association between Smith and Bieber first began when Pattie Mallette (Bieber's
mother, and a "devout Christian") would play Smith's inspirational recordings as young Justin was going to sleep.  Smith currently pastors The City Church in Kirkland, Washington.

Bieber has publicly owned up to his human frailties.  Nevertheless, he "is holding fast to his faith in God and believes there is a purpose God has for his life."  He identified that purpose as helping people, rather than simply entertaining them.
    
Resources

http://www.eonline.com/news/414335/justin-bieber-stops-turkey-concert-twice-to-honor-muslim-prayer-call
http://www.ivillage.com/justin-bieber-talks-jesus-and-marriage/1-a-294985
http://crossmap.christianpost.com/news/justin-biebers-pastor-judah-smith-talks-spiritual-bond-with-bieber-through-scriptures-2269

Copyright May 5, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved






Saturday, May 4, 2013

Hookup Culture: Intimacy interruptus

(Photo by Moralist)
It is often considered the height of "cool" to engage in sex without intimacy.  Commonly referred to as "hooking up," it occurs everywhere from airplanes to nursing homes.

Nevertheless, there are definite downsides to this behavior besides just the obvious physical risks.  Donna Freitas, in her book The End of Sex: How
Hookup Culture Is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy, talks about it in these terms:  "Hookup sex is fast, uncaring, unthinking, and perfunctory.  Hookup culture promotes bad sex, boring sex, drunken sex you don't remember, sex you could care less about, sex where desire is absent, sex that you have 'just because everyone else is, too,' or that 'just happens.'"

Because hookup-sex is fast becoming a first-date substitute, its effects are increasing exponentially.  Perhaps the most pernicious of these is the resulting lack of intimacy.  After repeated hookups, it often becomes more difficult to trust in a full-fledged relationship. 

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, in their Spirituality & Practice review of Freitas' book, state that 41% of
some college men and women who were surveyed on this topic expressed "sadness and regret about these
experiences."  The respondents reported feeling deprived of "healthy, fulfilling sex lives, positive dating experiences, and loving relationships."

The Brussats offer some of the following "antidotes" to the hookup lifestyle:  old-fashioned dates, self-
awareness of sexual needs and how they fit into the larger context of a religious/spiritual path, and "rethinking abstinence."

Resources

http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/books/excerpts.php?id=24910
http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/books/books.php?id=24909

Copyright May 4, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke





Friday, May 3, 2013

Pope Emeritus Benedict: Hidden in broad daylight

Vatican Gardens (Photo by Marek69)
According to Philip Pullella of Reuters, Pope Emeritus Benedict had said that he would live out the rest of his days "hidden from the world."

If that be the case, then perhaps he was inspired by Sherlock Holmes to hide in the most obvious place:  the Vatican.  Philip Pullella of Reuters reports that Benedict recently moved to a restored Vatican Gardens convent "just a short walk from the residence of his successor, Francis."  His new home also includes a chapel, a library, a guestroom for his brother Georg, and "quarters for his aides." 

There to greet him out front when he arrived was Pope Francis.   The two later prayed together in the
chapel.   This was the first time that they had gotten together in person since their historic meeting at Castel Gandolfo on March 23, 2013.

Although Benedict has pledged "unconditional reverence and obedience" to Francis, some are wondering what would happen if Francis were to undo "some of Benedict's policies while he is still alive."  They are theorizing that the former pope could then "become a lightning rod for conservatives and polarize the church."

The official statement is that Benedict "is happy to be back at the Vatican… where he intends to dedicate himself to the service of the Church, above all with prayer…"  According to Pullella, Vatican officials have also said that although Francis and Benedict will likely "exchange views" from time to time, the current pope "is his own man."

Time will tell.   


Resources

http://news.msn.com/world/pope-emeritus-benedict-back-at-vatican-to-live-out-retirement?ocid=ansnews11

Copyright May 3, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved



Thursday, May 2, 2013

Promiscuity and earthquakes: Causally linked?

(Public Domain)
It might be possible to successfully argue that (big) earthquakes increase promiscuity.  After all, if the known world begins to fall apart, then society's rules tend to do the same.  Those with bucket lists that extol the idea of multiple sexual partners might just decide
that it's now or never.

That being said - it doesn't necessarily (logically) follow that promiscuity increases earthquakes.  However, logic is only one (often small) way that people come to their conclusions.

Charyn Pfeuffer of MSN Living reports that  Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, a senior Iranian cleric, was quoted as saying: "Many women who do not dress modestly… lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes."  During a recent sermon, he also urged that, "to avoid being buried under the rubble," people should "take refuge in religion" and adapt their lives "to Islam's moral codes."

Iranian welfare minister, Sadeq Mahsooli, added that "prayers and pleas for forgiveness were the best way to ward off earthquakes."  He also suggested "alms and self-sacrifice."

If all this sounds strange to the Western mentality, it might be important to remember that the Bible also tends to correlate human sins with nature's upheavals.  It is also interesting to note that although Tehran "straddles several fault lines and is seismically active," it has not "suffered a major quake since 1830."

Resources

http://living.msn.com/life-inspired/the-daily-dose-blog-post?post=ac096f2a-fc70-4ad8-813f-6d40cd4ef9bb
http://www.openbible.info/topics/earthquakes

Copyright May 2, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved







Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Lei Day: Hawaiian gods remembered

Ohia Lehua (Public Domain)
In her article The Hawaiian Lei, Veronica Schweitzer
tells us that people the world over have decorated with
leis since ancient times.  However, the practice uniquely
developed in Hawaii because of its traditional isolation,
and because of its "abundance of blossoms, beads, and
leaves."

Leis began being associated with life's profound moments early on.  Schweitzer tells us that there "are leis for political, community, social, personal, farming, and religious ceremony."  She explains that these ceremonies tended to overlap in old Hawaii, and that they "all belonged to a people united by a deep-rooted belief in their gods."

Two such deities are the goddesses Pele and her sister Hi'iaka.  They are honored by the lehua flower (ohia lehua), which is described as "the tragic fire flower" of these sisters.  Sacred Texts tells us that Pele was expelled from her original home and wandered from island to island seeking shelter for her family.  Having fallen deeply in love with a chief of Kauai, she chose a crater on Hawaii, and settled there along with her brothers and little sister Hi'iaka.

Ever the fiery spirit, Pele then sent Hi'iaka to fetch the chief and bring him back to her.  Her passion became a burning jealousy when Hi'iaka betrayed Pele by romancing the chief.  Schweitzer now warns:  Even today, one shouldn't pick the lehua flower on the way to the volcano, Pele's home.  The results could be disastrous…

The maile leaf lei has been particularly associated with the gods of hula.  Maile is said to have "many siblings, with different shaped leaves and traditions."  Hawaiian legend tells us that there was "a greedy maile, a brittle maile, a luxuriant maile, and a sweetly scented maile."  When they weren't able to assist their demi-god brother in his ardent pursuit of a chiefess, he abandoned them within the forest.      

Resources

http://www.coffeetimes.com/leis.htm
http://www.sacred-texts.com/pac/hm/hm13.htm

Copyright May 1, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved